GJ 1214b, the Earthlike Exoplanet

Astronomers are identifying more and more exoplanets, planets that exist in other star systems besides ours. Of the hundreds of exoplanets we know of, the one that most resembles earth is called GJ 1214b. It can be studied because it is only 42 light years away.
Based on its radius and mass — about 2.7 and 6.6 times that of Earth’s — Charbonneau and the other astronomers have calculated GJ 1214b’s density. It appears to be composed of extraordinarily deep oceans, surrounding a rocky core.

The planet’s atmosphere and precise composition remain a mystery, but it’s likely composed of many of the same elements found elsewhere at sites of planetary formation, in swirling disks of dust and gas that have yet to accrete: hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, magnesium, oxygen, carbon.

That list of ingredients raises at least the possibility of life. With an estimated temperature of 370 degrees Fahrenheit, GJ 1214b is an unlikely incubator (Earth’s toughest extremophile, a microbe that lives in deep-sea volcanic vents, maxes out at 284 degrees) but it’s not impossible.

The folks at Wired believe that GJ 1214b deserves a better name, and is taking suggestions and votes for a new name. Of course, Stephen Colbert is high on the list. I voted for Sagan. Link to story. Link to poll. -via Metafilter

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